5-Year-Old Regressing as Parents’ Marriage Falling Apart

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Reader’s Question

My brother’s wife threatened divorce about 6 months ago and ejected my brother from the family home 3 weeks ago. My brother has his children, a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old son, 50% of the time.

My 5-year-old nephew has started soiling his pants over the last 6 months. My sister-in-law, who in my opinion has Borderline Personality Disorder (she has 6 of the 9 criteria), humiliates the boy in public over this, which is now becoming more frequent. She has also been openly hostile and denigrating toward my brother in front of the boys, and this seems to upset, terrify, and bewilder them.

I think soiling his pants is the only way my 5-year-old nephew can protest what is going on in his life at the moment. And I fear the shaming and humiliation his mother is inflicting on him over the soiling could scar him for life.

What can my brother do, if anything, to help the situation?

Psychologist’s Reply

It’s not uncommon for children to exhibit regressive behavior in the face of trauma and to “act-out” their emotional distress. It would be best that your brother procure some professional assistance. A family counselor or therapist with expertise in the issues that frequently accompany the dissolution of a relationship would be best.

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